Photo: Radical stewardship: remembering Milton Wong

(Credit: ogunnberg via Flickr)

By Joanna Wong | 黄如意

The vibrant life of my Uncle Milton Wong, business leader and philanthropist, will be celebrated Friday January 20th at a memorial in Vancouver.

Many will remember Milton for his inspiring legacy of social contributions that touched countless hearts and communities across Canada.

I will remember my Uncle for his typically cheeky answer to any new challenge:

"Well, what are you going to do about it?"

For Milton, no matter how insurmountable the problem, there was a way to step forward. He loved to grow outrageously big ideas and impossible dreams.

Milton found early success as an investor in finance, but he was more accurately an investor in possibility. From start-ups to new festivals to public projects like Science World, his passion for nourishing innovation was infectious.

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At times, Milton's interests seemed wildly diverse and even unrelated — the arts, multiculturalism, social justice. But for him, everything was easily unified under one single concept:


It's a word I first heard as a child, when adults talked about cleaning up streams or protecting salmon. A word for a sign on a forest trail. Wooden and old-fashioned.

But while my Uncle considered himself an environmentalist, stewardship to him wasn't just about protecting the natural world. It was about the deeper well-being of people, culture, and democracy.

Milton's vision of stewardship imagined a radically hopeful planet. Its definition was simple:

Stewardship is the act of caring for that which does not belong to you.

For my Uncle, everything and everyone was deserving of safety: a new immigrant, an endangered rainforest, a Nisga'a oral tradition, or a struggling womens' shelter.

Last spring, Milton came to visit me in China, where I've worked in the environmental sector for the last five years.

While Milton's childhood Chinese vocabulary was limited to subjects like dim sum, he still thrived in China, where the impact of good ideas immediately went to scale.

Walking together under coal-stained skies in the polluted chaos of Beijing, Milton spoke of the urgency facing our interconnected planet and the importance of reaching out across cultures:

"China is where the world's story is happening, kid. You can't come home yet."

Everyone, Milton felt, had the right to what he most cherished: watching the tides wash over rocky coastal beaches, digging through wet sand for clams with his children, waking to a golden dawn poured over cedar trees.

Milton was passionate about a borderless stewardship, one that called us to open our hearts to the lives of people thousands of miles away.
As naturalist John Muir wrote: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe."

The world that my Uncle imagined asks us to take the idea of stewardship off the sign on a forest trail and into our lives and relationships.

To care for that which does not belong to us.

It asks us, no matter how immense the challenge, to take a step forward. Towards the planet, each other, and possibility.

Read stories about Milton, or share favorite memories and photographs at

Joanna Wong is a principal at FlowCS, a creative studio dedicated to sustainability in China. She is part of the David Suzuki Foundation's Climate Council.

January 19, 2012

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1 Comment

Jan 22, 2012
5:56 PM

Thank you, Joanna, for your beautiful tribute to your uncle.

I would like to suggest that all Canadians, might consider adopting your Uncle Milton, as their "spiritual uncle". If that happened, NOTHING would be impossible!

What a wonderful world of respectful relationships, enhanced educational opportunities and loving neighbourhoods we would then have.

I see endless magnificent possibilities bubbling up everywhere!

Blessing to you in your work with the David Suzuki Foundation

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